Sunday, February 8, 2009

Face-to-Face Critique Groups?

Do you have a face-to-face critique group? Tell me about it. Does your writers' organization have critiquing sessions? How do they work?

How many members in your group?
How often do you meet?
When you crit, do you read aloud?
Do you bring as much as a chapter or just a few pages?
Do you pass from left to right, read silently and make comments directly on the manuscript?
How long do you spend on one story, with each member?
How long does the entire critique meeting last?

Bayou Writers Group has approximately 18-25 active members who want to critique each other. We're a general writing group. We have everything from poetry to novels.

I want to hear your suggestions on how we can critique more effectively.
Five people to a group?
Moderator with rules and guidelines?
Pass out manuscripts to 'partners' a day or two before the meeting?

Talk to me. Leave nothing out. I want details and suggestions.


Erica Vetsch said...

Crit groups are such an individual and nebulous thing. What makes one group a success and another a wash-out?

I've been in a face-to-face group before, but I didn't feel like I was getting bang for my buck. And it was getting spendy and tedious to print out copies of my chapters to hand round to half a dozen people when I only ever got one or two back.

I'd recommend keeping everything electronic. Saves on printing costs, and saves on writer group time that can be eaten up by critiques. Also, it can be easier to give and receive crits when everyone in the group isn't listening and watching you.

But if you're going to do face-to-face crits, perhaps a critique etiquette/how-to class before hand would be good. Write up something obnoxiously bad, then give it a critique. Act out the how not to give and how not to receive a critique in a group setting. Make it hilarious, but also truthful.

Sometimes, in fact, most times, I think critique groups sink or swim based upon the expectations of the writers going in. Expectations like:

"My work is stellar, no one will ever have a bad thing to say about it."

"Critique groups are my chance to tell everyone else what is wrong with their work."

"My opinion should carry the most weight in the group because I'm farther along in the publishing process."

"Critiques aren't hard."

"I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so I'll just say everything is good."

"It won't matter if I don't get to people's critiques and let them pile up, even if everyone else crits my stuff on time."

I've run across them all, and I've been guilty of some myself. At this stage of the game, I wouldn't join a critique group face-to-face unless or until we'd had an airing out session to discuss expectations and protocol.

Time-consuming up front, butI think it's worth it to know what to expect going in.

Wow, did I get longwinded! LOL

Debra Harris-Johnson said...

I love our face to face crit group. We bring our work and take turns reading out loud and are pretty honest with each other. We discuss what we are working on and anything we have gotten published. We share typical writing info. such as conferences, contests, and other groups or guilds we might like to join.
Everyone is supportative, honest, motivational, caring, personable, patient, and we have become writing friends. We rae mannerable and intuned to each other's feelings. We are complimentary but not in a suck up fake way. We are firm but helpful when we are expressing critical comments.
We are three to four strong and we may add one other to the group, possibly a guy since we are all ladies.
I can't think of a thing I would change about my crit group. We were lucky we didn't set rules but you definitely need rules. I had a bad experience with an online crit group where my head was blown off when I made some suggestions to a fellow writer. So first off everyone need to talk about expectations. If your feelings are hurt easily or you only want praise then maybe a crit group is not for you.

My best advice to anyone would be to welcome the criticism this is why I joined a crit group. I want people to tell me what is wrong or doesn't work. This is the only way I will grow as a writer and learn my trade.

Mindy Blanchard said...

WGA doesn’t have any critiquing sessions – we do have the member reading night which is a good way to get the word out on our writing and to improve our public speaking skills. On member reading night, any member can bring anything they have written. You are timed and everyone who wants to read gets 5 minutes maximum. We’ve had everything from a song played to a skit / play. Great stuff.

I’m in the BEST face-to-face critique group. There are 6 of us. Um okay 7. We have a mix - most members send the new work at least 1 week before we meet (we meet every other Thursday). Some members also print up and hand out the next piece for our next session after we are done with the critiques for our meeting date. We get everything from full chapters, 3 mini chapters, few poems, it just depends.

The critiques are done separately on individual sheets. Then we take our turns going around the table to explain the markings and point out positive points, etc. The writer then takes their individual sheets home from each other member for ease of doing their revisions later.

We usually spend as much as we need for each member. (but seriously this may need to get revised) Our meetings can last anything from 1hour to 3. It just depends on the number of members that have submitted. (Not all of our members submit every month – I have no idea what would happen if ALL of us submitted – we may need a weekend retreat for

I feel like I need to have seen the last critique session to determine what suggestions I should offer. 5 sounds like a good number – gives you a wide variety of critiques and its odd numbered which is good.

Personally, I think once you have setup a group, it would be best to just email and then critique at home and then discuss them in person once everyone shows up.

Newbies can trickle in with whatever groups choose to read out loud or can setup a new group amongst themselves until they can merge in and get a regular group of their choice that wants the email version.

With critique groups it may just depend on the members, some like to read and mark (me) and some like to hear and comment (others).
It’s a tough job you have there my friend!!